Under the slogan “No more FARC”, hundreds of thousands took the streets across the world to march against Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, which still holds about 700 hostages somewhere in the Andean jungles of the South American embattled nation. In Bogota a crowd estimated in 100,000 streamed out of offices waving flags and wearing white T-shirts printed with "No more kidnapping, No more lies, No more killing, No more FARC."
Local television showed images of hundreds of Colombians braving freezing weather to march in Japan and expatriates gathered to protest in cities in the United States, Australia, Europe and South America. The Colombian national soccer team joined the demonstrations in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.
Recent videos showing hostages chained up and despondent after as long as a decade in captivity have fueled outrage against the FARC, which the United States and Europe brand a terrorist group funded by Colombia's cocaine trade.
Before this event took place, the FARC announced an unilateral release of three hostages in poor health condition. FARC leaders asked the government of Venezuela to collaborate in the process, as they did earlier this year when two politicians were released.
Violence from Colombia's conflict has ebbed under President Alvaro Uribe, a Washington ally who has used billions of dollars in U.S. aid to counter Latin America's oldest insurgency and the country's drug traffickers. But the FARC is still holding 44 key hostages, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans, it wants to exchange for jailed rebels. Officials say the rebels hold around 700 more captives for extortion.
Guerrilla hostages are now at the center of a dispute between Colombia and Venezuela's anti-U.S. president, Hugo Chavez, over his role in brokering the release of captives. Chavez even mentioned that he was ready to fight a war with Colombia if Uribe’s administration – a pawn of the US imperialism, according to him- provoked a conflict.
Blowing whistles and chanting anti-FARC slogans, protesters packed into Bogota's Bolivar Plaza, where large images of hostages were draped from the mayor's building. Hundreds also marched in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, to oppose Chavez’ proposal to withdraw the FARC from the list of terrorist organizations.
The idea for the march originally came from a campaign by a group of students on the social networking Web site Facebook, where they called their protest a "Million Voices against the FARC." But the demonstration has underscored political divisions in Colombia. Supporters and opponents of Uribe accused each other of trying to score political points. Hostage families also expressed worries about retaliation against captives.